Words and pictures: Malcolm Anderson
As I climb to the Roman road at the top of Grovely Woods I step into a fractured jigsaw of shadow cast by a weak winter sun and pass along the sinuous footpath fringed by naked wooden sentinels. They stand here in their regimented order, mutely watching the decades pass, slipping away from the hands that planted them generations ago.
The lower branches scratch pleasantly at my fingers as I pass, causing perfect miniature orbs of dew to shimmer for a second and then plop from the winter-bare skeletal twigs.
I’m distracted from reaching the top of the woods for a second, as I always am, at the seventeenth tree on the left. Not a particularly remarkable tree, just a slender beech in a row of similar slender beeches; its trunk deeply spotted with dark green mossy freckles, soft as loose under-feathers to the touch.
No, what makes this tree special is a very human intrusion. A decidedly man-made fingerprint marking an otherwise natural canvas. Etched deep into the Braille textured bark on the back of the tree, gradually becoming the green of the English Channel after a summer storm is a simple carved heart and the words ‘I love Lisa’.
As I pause here with the cold hug of a Wiltshire winter wrapped around my shoulders my mind is full of questions. Who was the carver? Who was Lisa?
Do they still lean towards each other for support, like two old pine trees alone on a hillside or has the slow steady erosion of time left one heart longing for something long gone? Does our carver wake every morning and still think ‘I love Lisa’?
Do they live separate lives somewhere in the valley below, married to others, occasionally daydreaming of childhood infatuation and wondering how things might have been?
Was Lisa here, enraptured by the passions of youth, while the carving was done or did our anonymous craftsman do the deed, so to speak, while up here on his own?
Does the sun still shine for him when he thinks of her easy carefree smile? Can he remember that pang of teenage lust or like the greening bark has the passage of time grown over the ragged emotional scar and filled that Lisa shaped void?
I let my fingers drift over the rough edges of the carving one more time; a sensuous tactile connection to another life and another love then I keep wandering slowly into the fading afternoon sun. In my heart I’m hoping with the same conviction that tells me that Spring will follow winter that my wood carver and his Lisa were forever.